What is Reptile Impaction

What is Impaction?

Impaction is a condition in which the digestive tract is blocked by a solid or a semi-solid mass. If it is not treated it can become fatal.

Leopard Gecko Impaction

Causes of Impaction

Impaction can be caused by various sources. The most common of which is housing them on loose substrates.

Other causes of impaction include feeding reptiles food that is either to large or inappropriate. You should never feed insects that are larger than the width of the reptile's head (excluding snakes, in which the rule of thumb for feeding is that the feeder rodent be no larger than the largest part of the snake).

Feeders that are too large can get stuck in the digestive tract, causing the blockage. Feeder insects that have a hard Chitin outer-shell can, also cause impaction. You should only feed these type of feeders to larger reptiles, never babies or juveniles.

Low temperatures can cause inadequate digestion, one more reason to make sure you have proper temperatures. If the reptile requires belly heat versus air heat, make sure that you include an under tank heater as a part of the husbandry. Make sure that the basking sites of diurnal reptiles are appropriate temperatures, as well.

One other cause of impaction is dehydration; always provide your reptiles with fresh water.

Necropsy
Necropsy
The Contents
The Contents

Loose Substrates

Impaction caused by loose substrates develop overtime, so the symptoms are more gradual. Most of the time it will go unseen until it is too late.

Calci-Sand, Vita-Sand, and other calcium based sand is a BIGno-no. Do not trust the manufacturer's label as digestible. Because it contains calcium, reptiles are more likely to eat it, but where calcium is good, sand is not. Calc-Sand clumps together when it is wet. Imagine what it will do inside a reptile... Clump... When wet, it doesn't dissolve either, so what makes the manufacturers believe it will in a reptile's body?

Other high risk substrates include:

  • Playsand
  • Pine
  • Aspen
  • Cypress
  • Woodchips
  • Dirt
  • Bark.

Corn cob, Crushed walnut shells, gravel, cat litter, pebbles, and any other pellet-type substrates should not be used in a reptile's enclosure either, as they, too, can cause impaction if ingested.

The safest substrate that you can use is tile, slate, reptile carpet, and paper towels.

Symptoms of Impaction

The first symptom that you may notice is that the fecal matter may contain loose substrates. For example, it may be covered in sand, but you know that the reptile did not kick sand onto the fecal matter because you cannot find any evidence of holes in the substrate.

Mild Symptoms include:

  • Constipation
  • Straining to excrete fecal matter

Moderate-Severe symptoms include:

  • Slight leg trembles
  • Regurgitation
  • Slight bumps along spinal area
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • A blue-bruised area on the abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing

Note: When paralysis occurs in one or both back legs, impaction is in the lower digestive tract, but when it involves one or both front legs, impaction is in the upper digestive tract.

Reptile Substrates

Reptiles Carpet
Reptiles Carpet
Calcium Based Sand
Calcium Based Sand

Treating Impaction

If you are able to catch impaction early on, you can set up the reptile in a different enclosure, or reformat the current one. Include an undertank heater to help achieve appropriate temperatures. Use paper towels as the substrate, as they are disposible and easy to clean; using paper towels, also, insures that the reptile will not be able to ingest any more loose substrates.

If the reptile is showing mild symptoms, you will want to first set it up in an enclosure free of loose substrates, and follow the below method. If you're reptile is showing more moderate-severe symptoms, you want to take the reptile to a vet, ASAP.

Now what you want to do with the reptile, itself, is to purchase a small dropper, in order to administer a few drops of either mineral oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil, daily. Give the reptiel warm soaks at least once a day, as well. Make sure to not let the water get hotter than the reptiles normal basking temperatures.

You want to try to get as much fluids in the reptile as you can without too much force. Try giving the reptile diluted Gatorade or pedialyte by using a dropper.

Do not give the reptile any solids, yet. Try providing the reptile different baby foods. Bearded dragons and omnivorous reptiles can eat fruit or vegetable baby foods, and insectivores can be provided chicken and turkey baby foods. Make sure to add supplements to the baby food. You may have to use a dropper to feed the reptile the baby food, but see if it will eat it on its own, first.

This method may take several days to get the impaction moving through the reptile's body, but DO NOT let it go more than 10 days.

The next option really isn't an option. You should take your reptile to a vet. Hopefully, you know, or have found, a good reptile veterinarian in the area. The vet will try to flush the impaction out by giving the reptile enemas. NEVER try this on your own!

Preventing Impaction

If you want to prevent impaction before it has a chance to impact your reptile you need to, first, start the reptile on a solid surface. NOT loose substrates. And, make extreme care to not house reptiles under one year on loose substrates.

Feed size appropriate foods. Make sure that crickets aren't too big for the reptile, and chop fruits and veggies up to a smaller size.

Make sure the temperatures in the enclosure are not to low or too high. Using a digital thermometer with a probe, you can accurately determine the temperatures in the enclosure. Fluker's manufactures a digital thermometer with a probe that not only measures temperature but humidity, which can be very important in creating the proper enclosure for you reptile.

Keep a bowl of calcium in the aquarium at all times.

Keep fresh water in the enclosure.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a specialized reptile veterinarian.

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Comments 163 comments

Brian Hess 2 years ago

The only substrate I use for my Leo and Bearded Dragon is tile,


Grainne Gillespie 3 years ago

Vermiculite is also a risk. I used vermiculite as a medium in my leos shedding box/nest box without problem until I got a new male gecko. He ate the vermiculite and ended up dying of impaction


lucy 4 years ago

So my baby leo is red in the face and we do use sand and im so worryed when i saw the pictures


meagan 4 years ago

my leo is almost a year and i had him on sand and then i swicthed to reptile carpet and gave him a mineral oil bath but he looks worse . he stopped eating and is always sleeping .i feel really bad what shoyuld i do.


Steevie Rae 4 years ago

First off... i work at a petsmart. We do not sell any leo's or any other reptiles under 1 month old or against the law in the state. We could get fined majorly

Second off

if he's smaller that's not a problem. you need to separate them while feeding if there is a huge difference in size. In fact you should get two different tanks if there is to big of a difference since the larger ones tend to be a bully.

there is no way its smaller then a hatch-ling. If the vendor sends us one to small.. we send it back. In fact we measure it up to what the size should be. if its smaller its illegal and we have to file a claim.. yada yada yada..


Brian Anthony Del Piano 5 years ago

I am a freelance writer. I have written countless articles in the past about this, but I must say, photo's speak louder than words! EXCELLENT article! I can only hope this educates people.


ELIOT 5 years ago

when using any substrate, feed ur animal(s)in a separate container!!!!!!!!!! and don't use sand!!!!!!!! i use eco earth for all animals and have never had a problem with it!!!!!!!!!! i feed all of my snakes in separate tanks so they wont afileate handleing w feeding also.


Eliot 5 years ago

if people don't understand this, they are killing there reptiles!!!!! and they don't really care eather!!!!!!!!!!!


Deemo 5 years ago

I have a leopard gecko, they are from the desert so therefore they naturally live on sand. I purchased desert sand after I spoke to a breeder who has been breeding for 9 years and he uses the sand also all his reptiles, some he keeps and some he sells are all on calci sand and none of them have had any problems. What %age of geckos suffer from impaction as it does say 'may' cause impaction ? I was using wood chips and noticed he did eat a small piece of wood that he picked up with a locust, I'm scared now that this is going to kill him could he poop it out or will it get stuck ? Please help.


momo 5 years ago

If the gecko eat something to big, Bigger then it's head. Like a grasshopper a day ago, can i treat him with the veggie oil an warm baths now an have him be ok? I cant bring him to a vet because im dirt broke


Pstrat 5 years ago

My 11 year old gecko died today of impaction. She wouldn't eat anything for quite some time, and in the last week of her life there were large amounts of blood in her cage. It was really sad cause I was planning on putting her to sleep and was too late.

I advise anyone reading this to NOT house your gecko in any type of sand!!!! If you currently are, it's not too late to switch... My gecko lasted 11 years which is a really long time, it just wasn't a pleasant way to see my childhood until adulthood pet go.

Again, do not house your gecko in sand!! And if you are, change to something else. Impaction can prove to be fatal!


rene'  5 years ago

My garter snake ate some dirt while eating her worm and is now vomitting blood as well as the worm. Small bit of blood fri. night, more blood and worm sat. afternoon. What do you think her chances of surviving are? Do you think blood is from internal injury or from salmonela?


Katie03 5 years ago

Oh, and also, he is acting normal, as if nothing is different, he comes out around the same times at night, walks the same, looks the same, drinks just as much water as usual, the only thing that is different is his lack of pooping and eating.. although he still does a little bit.


Katie03 5 years ago

Hello, I need some advice... So, my leopard gecko is around 8 months old, he is on paper towels for substrate, the temps are usually about 90f on the hotter end of the enclosure, i use two bulbs for my heat source, neither being UVB, just red heat lamps, and i feed him crickets everyday unless he chooses not to eat. Now, for the past 2 weeks, he has only pooped twice, and on top of that he hasn't been eating nearly as much, he will only eat one every night, and sometimes not at all, and then after he does poop, he eats about 3, but then it goes back to the same as before. I've been giving him olive oil to help and warm water soaks while i rub his belly gently, because i was assuming he was impacted, but i don't really know why he would be impacted. The other thing is his poop isn't as full, i guess i could say. Instead its sort of dried out looking/ shriveled up, but still the same color pretty much. I don't know if he has parasites maybe, he was bought from a pet store, is there any way of getting rid of them at home? Is there any other problems he might have that i don't know about?


gecko lover 5 years ago

i just had a gecko die from impaction . despite of how i hate passing the blame this is one time i have to go with everyone else when they say pet stores don't care. when i got my two geckos last december one was noticeably smaller than the other so i got advice from another pet store after he continued to stay the same size as the other grew , even though he was eating as well. she said he was dehydrated and gave me moss and a cool hide box, but nothing happened. well just last week he stopped eating and drinking and finally died my mom wanted to get me another one but i just told her that i would wait till i can ensure they have all they need and will be able to go to the vet before i get any more pets

and everything in his habitat was fine i have a larger gecko that i got at the beginning of last year that has ther same setup and is doing great and growing regularly


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 5 years ago from Georgia Author

How can something be smaller than a hatchling? Geckos vary in size. If the gecko is that small, the breeder is nto a good breeder and had no right selling you geckos that small. If it was a pet store, then that's normal, as they buy from wholesalers who don't care about the animals just the money.

I never recommend buying animals from a pet store. They are commonly ill.

The two geckos need to be housed individually, as you do not know their genders, and if you have two males, they will fight and a male and female will breed. In some cases, females will also fight. They do better housed individually.

You just got them, it takes time for some geckos to get adjusted and eat. And, since these geckos should never have been sold, they are more than likely quite stressed and fragile.


Chris 5 years ago

P.s. Whenever they see crickets, they don't go after them


Chris 5 years ago

Hi. I just bought my new leos three days ago. To me, the smaller one looks smaller than a hatchling. The bigger one is about the size of a hatchling. I bought both at petsmart and i never saw them eat. from the looks of the cage, they only ate one mealworm. Am i doing something wrong? What should i feed them?


Justin  5 years ago

this article is so great. I'm the new owner of my first beardie and, so far I am loving it! (My fiancé chuckles about this because ive been treating it like by own child, calling to check up on it and getting all kinds of stuff for it) I have a few questions though

We really want to get a second bd, but of the opposite gender (we are excited to eventually breed). Mine is a juvenile (only about 4-5", I haven't measure it yet) is there any way to check the gender at this young, (I know of the "1 bump 2 bump" method when they are older). Also, my friend recommended putting a damp towel above the cool side of the cage, and I noticed that definitely raised the temp of the warm side and levelled out the cool side, would that work if I eventually move up to a 55gallon breeder tank (currently using a 15gallon)? also, Is there an easy way to check the temp on the basking spot? He definitely seems happy with the temp, but I'm just a little worried it may not be peaking high enough.


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 6 years ago from Georgia Author

What reptile are you housing? How old is the reptile?


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    Whitney (Whitney05)3,491 Followers
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    Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises and other exotics since 2003



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